A few years ago I had a client who appeared to be losing the plot. Here was an individual I had trained for 4 years and was one of the hardest working and most intelligent people I had ever met, but he could not even find the energy to prepare his own dinner or ensure that his previously balanced diet was on track throughout the day. He used to make the extra effort to walk down the road past all the cafes and shops to find a supermarket which sold plain deli roast turkey so he could bulk up his lean Protein levels in an effort to maintain his muscle mass. He was not a bodybuilder in his mid 20s, but a driven 50 year old businessman who knew the importance of fuelling his body and trying to do everything within his power to hold on to the muscle he had built over the years. Not a natural athlete, he had worked extremely hard to create his physique and demonstrated all the fight and will to survive. Something had changed.
During the recession, his business had taken a slight hit. We are not talking store closures and crumbling empires, but his company employed roughly 50 people and were involved in projects all over London. People depended on him. His employee’s livelihoods were at risk and the project he had dedicated so much time to was failing. These types of scenarios provoke different reactions in us all. Some people thrive under the pressure, some people cave in. For him it was somewhere in between. The toll of fighting his way back had left some deep mental scars and there were numerous questions starting to be asked. Why do I do this to myself? Life is too short to be under this pressure? I am in my 50s do I really need this? What is the point?
The effects of these pressures are not easy to hide, people start to notice changes in personality and the character you once were is a mere shadow in the distance. Facing a daily battle, it is very hard to carry on with normal life. Looking after your physical state through sleeping well, training and eating well becomes an additional burden that is sometimes disregarded. Mental health is affected also by limiting socialising and enjoyment of hobbies such as reading, gardening and going to the theatre. When we are fighting against something, we as human beings go into Survival Mode and everything else is forgotten.
It is easy to sit back and commentate on the situation, as so many of us do. If you stop exercising you become agitated, it effects your energy levels hugely, as does not eating properly. Lack of sleep just puts the icing on the cake for a really crappy existence compared to what you could have. In my eyes not using your body for what it was created to do is the greatest sin that exists , but finding solutions for him was difficult.
As coaches it is our responsibility to help fix the problem. I would stand there for 2 hours a week trying to energise my client, fill him with hope and promise, we would agree some steps for the week ahead to make sleeping, eating and moving around as easy as possible for him. The usual steps, a diet plan with food groups written out, turn off electronic devices after 11pm, pre book gym sessions with your PA. All well and good, but did they work? No. In hindsight, this was a case of merely treating the symptoms, we were not looking at the cause.
Carrying out tasks, fulfilling duties and generally getting things done are all powered by motivating factors. If you are a solider you listen to your officers, because you have no choice. If you are a creative, you make art because you are inspired to do so. What drives an individual is the most important part of figuring out how to produce the results they are looking for. What happens when you leave the army? What happens when your inspiration has gone? The mind is primary in all tasks, without it we are not in the present moment, we are not fulfilling our potential.
Mental health is still a taboo subject in the Western world. It is something that is better understood by those cultures that embrace their spirituality far better than we do. As (male) children our culture and society generally expects us to be toughened up a bit at school, get in the odd scrap and play sport. If we don’t succeed at any of these things it appears to us that we will not get any girls, never get a good job and generally not have any mates and have a fairly average life. Ok a fairly harsh outlook on life, but looking through the eyes of others can be very powerful. Those of us who show any signs of weakness are immediately tossed to the rubbish dump. Mental illness or fragility is weakness in our society.
Stress and Anxiety cloud your ability to focus, they sit at the forefront of your thoughts covering all other processes and inspiration. According to recent statistics, they effect 1 in 5 of us. However, the majority just live with it and never do anything about it. For my client he could not afford to live with it for any longer. He discovered a form of training for the brain (commonly referred to as meditation) known as Mindfulness.
Mindfullness is: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Have you ever felt a moment when you truly feel alive? It could have been a single moment on holiday, memories from backpacking around the world, scoring a match winning try in a rugby match, hitting a new PR in the gym. Anything that made you truly feel alive and here in the present moment without any thoughts or distractions, just you and this moment. In the present state we are able to truly experience moments we can focus on the task at hand, there is no brain fog or feeling of a cloud hanging over us. Like resetting your laptop or tablet, resetting the brain is important.
Now meditation can be different for all of us, I have always found reading, walking my dogs and exercising ti be my favourite forms of ‘me time’ but to actually trin the brain requires a deeper thought process. For my client it worked a treat, sceptical at first, he went to group sessions for 2 hours a week over a 10 week period. Just like physical therapy you are required to do daily practice on your own which, like any new habit, can be difficult to fit into your daily routine. After roughly 20 weeks he was a new man, now practicing daily without any problems he was back to his usual state and using it as a way to focus before important meetings. The beauty of this training regime is that you can do it anywhere and anytime. All you need is a quiet space to think.
I have been practicing mindfullness off and on for the past 6 months. I hate to admit, but it has been a habit that I have not yet created in my daily routine. However, I am working on it and will be writing a post on it before the end of the year with my own personal experience. If you want to find out more about it, download the free headspace app on iphone or android and start today.